Almost every business has an online presence of some form. Many have a website which serves as anything from an online company brochure to a fully-featured online store or customer/vendor/user portal. Some have apps available through Google Play Store, the Apple App Store, or other app stores. A number of companies spend significant sums on their websites and apps to design robust features and content delivered through a compelling user experience. But if there’s one place website and app operators miss the mark, it’s ensuring the right legal disclosures are in place, and that the ones that are in place are saying the right things.
There are four core rules that should apply to all website disclosures:
- Write them in plain English.
- Avoid using undefined technical jargon and using marketing bluster.
- Make them easy to understand and use.
- Make them 100% accurate and truthful.
Consider having your company’s User Experience group review your disclosures and policies to ensure they are as easy to read and navigate as possible. Consider using design elements such as progressive reduction and progressive disclosure (you can see my earlier blog post on this topic by clicking here.) The goal is to ensure consumers easily understand your disclosures. If you ever have an issue with a term or provision in your disclosures, being able to argue that the content and design were optimized for easy reading and navigation can pay dividends.
Here are some website and app disclosures to consider:
Look for a more detailed post on privacy policies coming soon.
- DMCA Notice. If your website collects, displays, or otherwise uses or shares user-generated content, consider a copyright notice (also called a “DMCA notice”). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act creates a “safe harbor” from copyright infringement for websites operators who honor takedown requests and display on their website information for their designated “copyright agent” to which takedown requests can be sent. There’s more to the statute than that, so if you need a DMCA notice please review one of the multitude of articles out then on crafting a proper DMCA notice. Don’t forget that you need to register your designated copyright agent with the US Copyright Office by filing a “Designation of Copyright Agent” form.
- California “Shine the Light” Notice. In 2005, California enacted the “Shine the Light” law as part of its Consumer Records Act. The law requires businesses to provide disclosures to California consumers of the types of customer information they share with third parties for the third party’s direct marketing purposes during the immediately preceding calendar year. If your business shares collected personal information with third parties for the third party’s direct marketing purposes and does business in California, with a few exceptions this law applies to you. Businesses are required to let customers know how to submit requests for this information. While there are a few options, the simplest for most businesses is to include a link on the company’s homepage to “Your California Privacy Rights” or “Your Privacy Rights” to a page describing customer’s rights under the “Shine the Light” law and the email/physical address to which requests should be sent. There has been an uptick in class action litigation recently against companies which do not have a “Shine the Light” disclosure on their website.
- Terms of Sale. If you sell products through your website, consider using a Terms of Sale to govern the sales transaction. Terms of Sale typically include provisions such as placing an order; when it is accepted by the company; delivery and fulfillment terms; the return/cancellation policy; information on prices (e.g., subject to change without notice, not required to honor incorrect pricing); license rights to software; etc.
- Warranties. One policy you may want to consider adding to your website are product warranties. Last year Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the E-Warranty Act of 2015. This law amended the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to allow companies to put their warranties online instead of including them on or in product packaging. The product documentation or packaging would need to include a link to the online warranty, instead of the warranty terms themselves. Companies that sell products that come with warranties should consider reviewing and taking advantage of the E-Warranty Act.
- Supply Chains Notice. In 2010, California enacted the Transparency in Supply Chains Act. The law requires large retailers doing business in California (over $100 million in annual revenue identifying itself as a retail seller or manufacturer on their CA tax return) to post disclosures on their websites on their “efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their [direct] supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale” in five specific areas: verification, audits, certification, internal accountability, and training. It requires the disclosures be accessible through the company’s homepage via a “conspicuous and easily understood” link.
- At the extreme end of this, consider what has been happening in New Jersey. Class action counsel have been using an extremely broad interpretation of NJ’s largely-ignored-until-recently Truth in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act to go after companies operating business-to-consumer (B2C) websites. The law prohibits sellers from providing notices, terms, or contracts with provisions that violate “any clearly established legal right of a consumer or responsibility of a seller” under federal or state law (whether or not the consumer is happy with the purchase). Class action counsel are bringing suit under this statute stating that just displaying a website notice with a general limitation of liability, broad disclaimers of warranty, statements that certain terms such as warranty disclaimers may not apply to particular consumers without specifying whether NJ consumers are affected, or other limitations on a consumer’s rights is a violation of the statute. Most of these cases are settling before trial, but like other nuisance lawsuits they can end up costing your business considerable time and lost productivity if you end up facing one.